The last night of the 501 Club, told in the style of Justin Taylor

The last night of the 501 Club, told in the style of Justin Taylor

It didn’t have to be this way, I think, as another man’s wife dances next to me on the stage of the 501 Club. It didn’t have to end this way.

The crowd seems hardly to move, standing oddly still in comparison with the crowds at the previous shows I’ve seen Slapping Purses play. Maybe they’re saving their energy for Pink Mink and MC/VL. Maybe they’re drunk on the drinks made fuck-it strong by the bartenders, who know that this will be the last night the 501 will ever be open. Or maybe, as I suspect, they’re fascinated—and, perhaps, appalled—by me. Under the searing stage lights, I start to sweat.

* * *

It’s supposed to be a fun night, seeing MC/VL perform their last show and saying goodbye to the 501 Club, yet another in the unending stream of venues blessed or doomed by clubgoers’ fickle tastes, and also by relative proximity to bus lines.

The cold bites my face as I say goodbye to Rebekah Rentzel outside the Great Sun Bar and Buffet, where we’ve spent an interminable 45 seconds listening to the racist jokes of a drunk patron who decided to test his comedy routine on us. We want to discuss the play we’ve just seen at the Red Eye Theater, but there’s not enough time. There’s never enough time.

I run around the corner and climb into a maroon SUV driven by Katie Sisneros, as Becky Lang, Ryan Warner, Sarah Heuer, and Chris Cloud, their faces decked with silver glitter, squeeze into the back. Ryan has recording equipment. He’s going to record the show, and he’s excited about it. So am I.

Later, much later, after she stops at McDonald’s for food on her way home, Katie’s vehicle will get stuck in a snowy alley, and she’ll tweet about spending an unsuccessful hour on her hands and knees trying to dig it out. While she digs she’ll accidentally pocket-dial me, leaving a mysterious message full of crunching and grunting.

“Shit lady!” Becky will tweet. “That sucks. Also, Dinkytown McDonald’s drive through 4 lyfe.”

* * *

The club is throbbing with people. Some people I know, and some people I don’t know. It frightens me to see people I don’t know. Who are all these people? Where did they come from? The Franzia I drank on stage at the Red Eye swirls in my head as I make my way to the ATM. Meredith Westin sees me. We hug. Brenda Karunya Peters sees me. We hug. Geoffrey Scott sees me. We nod.

As I wait for my cash at the ATM, John James Wallace hugs me from behind. “Hey, John.” I say. “Are you juiced?”

“I’m so happy!” he cries.

It’s a happy night. Happy, ironically.

As I make my way to the door, I pass Alicia Zobbe-Hogdal, the legendary @meatpit. We nod.

* * *

The line at the door is growing, and people are nervous about getting in to the crowded downstairs bar, where Kitten Forever have just ended their set. Behind me, 501 booker Robyn Lewis reassures Danielle Morris. “You’ll be good.”

I, too, am good. I’m in.

There’s Ben Clark, at the merch table. “I’m watching it,” he says, “but it’s all free. Help yourself.”

I do.

Buying a drink, I make my way to the front of the stage, where I find Andrea Swensson, Kyle Matteson, Pat and Jess O’Brien. Dave Loomer. I feel safe. I drink my Strongbow, crush the can.

I crush it, and then, with little warning, I’m suddenly “crushing it.”

I’m on stage, with Danielle, John, Jahna Peloquin, and Beth Hammarlund. I start to dance, and the whole world slows down. I can hardly hear Slapping Purses. I look up into the black rafters, and I look down into the crowd. There are Becky, Katie, and Sarah. I wave, gesturing for them to join us on stage. By gesture, they decline.

John is in his heavy winter coat, prancing like Mick Jagger and flapping his arms. Next to me, Beth is getting low, low, low, low, low. Kate Iverson is at a table on the upper level. She’s tweeting about this. I know she is. What is she saying?

What’s happening? Is this the end? It’s the end of the 501, but it feels like the end of something more. I don’t know what.

I’m afraid. I can’t lose this scene. It’s all I have.

To these people, I’m @JayGabler. Mr. Ubiquity. I’m everywhere. What they don’t know is, I’m nowhere.

It’s like being a cloud—not Chris Cloud, but an actual cloud that drifts across the landscape, big and fluffy and white and sometimes weeping. You can’t miss seeing that cloud, but put your hand through it and it’s like you’re touching a ghost. You can fly a plane right through it, and all you get is a little turbulence. You don’t even have to fasten your safety belt. Without people to see me, to tweet about me, I am nothing.

* * *

It’s funny how, in life, things happen, but they don’t really happen except that they do and then you realize that they happened and you wonder what they mean. You try to understand, and you try to live a good life, but in the end the days of our lives slip away like sand through an hourglass.

Later that night, as Katie is on her knees digging in a cold snowy alley, Beth and her husband Brian Gioielli sit in bed watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, eating snacks, and discussing the fact that they’re strangely obsessed with me.

I know this, because I read it on Twitter. That’s the only way anyone can know anything in this strange, wintry city where I walk the streets, perpetually seeking…something.

Jay Gabler

Photo by Katie Sisneros